Kyambogo take on Boks during Central Region championship match in February 2022. Boks won the match 10-09 at Kyambogo. Credit: Lillian Nakitende for Kyambogo Rugby/TW

Proof of independence issues have added further complexity to the controversy in which the Central Region championship’s representative for the promotional playoffs was chosen by Uganda Rugby Union (URU).

Within less than 48 hours starting yesterday afternoon, URU invited the public for the draw held online via Google Meet, announced the fixtures which included the Central region’s Kyambogo Rugby Club, and three teams from other regions – Lira Bulls (Northern), Walukuba Barbarians (Eastern), and Mbarara Titans (Western), and then made a u-turn on the university team, Kyambogo’s participation in the tournament.

This follows a petition filed by Boks RFC via email about the draws that excluded them from the playoffs yet they were the champions – undefeated in the entire season for emphasis, and rightful representatives, of the Central Region.

Kyambogo had been drawn against Lira Bulls in the first semifinal to be played at 2 p.m. EAT at Makerere’s The Graveyard but have now been replaced by Boks, according to a URU press statement released today evening.

The statement signed by URU Vice President-Technical, Oscar Olaro, confirms the change with just five days left to the day when the tournament is expected to be played.

“The URU TC (Technical Committee) has reviewed the Tournament Director’s decision and further guides that BOKS will be allowed to compete in the championship to replace Kyambogo who finished runner up in the central region league and had been drafted in to replace Boks in the absence of the said documentation at that point. Boks will thus be the Central Region competitor at the 2022 Championship tournament,”

The statement published on May 17, 2022, reads.

URU notes that the championship playoff only attracts the winners in each of the four rugby regions, and that the winner of the playoff earns promotion to the premier league.

“Whereas the URU HQ (Head Quarters) has been engaging Boks to prove their independence, they have not been able to do that even after several engagements with the very least for them to show update on progress on the requirements. There are neither minutes nor steps that have been proven to have been made in the direction of independence. The Tournament Director decided to exclude Boks in a bid to keep the integrity of the competition after all avenues had been exhausted since April 2022 when it became apparent that they could win,” read the statement.

Boks is attached to the KOBs Rugby Club as a development/feeder team for the historic club.

So what are these requirements Boks needed to prove their independence from KOBs?

The rugby premier league, and all other URU-sanctioned tournaments held in Uganda, are governed by a tournament manual written by URU and signed by all participating clubs.

The entry requirements to the league, restricted to ten participating teams, all of which, according to the tournament manual for the 2021/22 Nile Special Rugby Premier League, must conform to are stated in the tournament manual, the constitution of the union, the regulations and resolutions of the executive committee of the union, the by-laws, resolutions and regulations relating to the game of rugby, and the laws of the game.

The tournament manual also states that a team shall only be declared a participating team after it has fulfilled all the registration requirements as defined within itself, and that special dispensation, made only as a temporary measure and within URU strategic objectives, can only be given by the URU executive committee.

That said, Boks have been given not more than sixty days of qualifying for the league, if they win the promotional playoff tournament, within which they must show compliance with all requirements. This special dispensation is the wildcard handed to Boks given that all other teams have not been found to not show compliance with the said requirements.

In addition, Boks will, within the aforementioned sixty days, need to satisfy Union affiliation requirements as an independent club. These are indicated in the appendix of the tournament manual and include; administration – club constitution, updated executive members list, management committee and club structure, financial account details, and registration fee stated by and paid to URU, proof of facility usage – tenancy agreement or ownership, and annual requirements for Annual General Meetings, updated player registers for the first and second teams with parental consent obtained for all players under the age of eighteen.

From an outsider’s perspective, it is difficult to explain and understand how Boks will satisfy these requirements within sixty days of qualifying for the premier league, if they do qualify that is, if the club could not satisfy them after several engagements with URU leading up to this day.

What happens next?

As has been the trend every time URU makes a decision concerning the sport in the recent past, there is always uproar and protests against the communication, followed by banter and verbal shrapnel flying thick and fast among fans, officials, and commentators on the warring sides on social media.

These exchanges, especially on Twitter, will continue, and thereafter suffer a natural death after another controversy or success causes a distraction.

Focusing on serious matters that are expected to have an impact on the future, URU has stressed that all teams in all URU sanctioned competitions must comply with all governance requirements lest they automatically forfeit their position in the respective competition.

“Further to that, it should be noted that if within 60 days of qualifying to the premiership or regional URU sanctioned league games all eligible teams must comply with all governance requirements less, they automatically forfeit their position in the relevant competition.”

Another important thing to note from the statement is URU’s pronunciation of the need for clubs to provide proof of independence as a requirement to play in the premier league.

“It is a requirement for any team to play in the premiership to prove independence so that the integrity of our competitions is kept intact. The URU will from next season create a reserve league in which clubs that seek to make use of their extra players or help in the recovery have a platform for them to compete. In doing that the regional leagues will only be for fully registered clubs and URU members.”

History recalls Buffaloes’ journey to independent premier league status from a feeder club of record champions Heathens, although both teams still enjoy a unique and harmonious relationship at Kyadondo Rugby Club. Most recently, the other related case is Sailors’ core status in the sevens series despite being Black Pirates’ feeder side.

It is why, to eliminate these conflicts and keep the integrity of its competitions intact, URU has resolved to create a reserve league in which clubs can keep their players in active competitive rugby, and to aid in recovery from injuries or long breaks. Thus, this makes the regional leagues a closed competition for only fully registered clubs and affiliated members.

Ernest Akorebirungi is an amateur rugby player and a keen follower of local Ugandan rugby.

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